Saturday, 21 June 2014

England World Cup KO "Shock"

Hate to be a smart-arse but I predicted (on record) that England would not get out of their group; they would be on the wrong end of some suspicious officiating; Suarez would do them in the Uruguay game. FIFA ranked England third in Group D which, pending the outcome of the Costa Rica dead rubber, is just about right. One of the few instances FIFA have pronounced on anything correctly.

We'll deal with the racist-abusing, biting, diving Suarez another day. Meanwhile let's look at some facts. This, everybody needs reminding, is a WINTER WORLD CUP. Sure, the equatorial cities are fairly constant in climate all year round, but the southern ones like São Paulo, Porto Alegre, even Rio, can get quite chilly. The FA placed much emphasis on conditions in Manuas. São Paulo, however, was cold, wet and not too far over the border from Uruguay, making it a home game for them with native weather to boot. Uruguay, apparently, didn't base themselves in Brazil but had remained in Montevideo up to this point, doing no tropical acclimatisation, which may account for their failure against Costa Rica in Fortaleza. They were also without Suarez. One likes to think the FA took all this into account in their intelligence-gathering. But you do wonder.

Coast Rica are good, make no mistake about it. They have a solid bunch of MLS players. Football in the US should not be underestimated. Given their victory over Italy, does England's heroic failure against the latter now say more about the Italians than it does about us?

With regard to Roy Hodgson, he seems a decent bloke whom the players like. I don't see he could have done much better with the players at his disposal. Although, as blogged previously, he should have taken Ashley Cole and, given the right circumstances, John Terry. I find it wryly amusing that poor old Roy, absolutely battered for his previous caution and preference for 4-4-2 (the formula which got England, solidly if unremarkably, to Brazil), is now being hauled across the coals for opting for youth and flair, the very thing the media was salivating over up until... er... about 10pm Thursday.

Bottom line is, England simply haven't got the players. How many would have got into the Italy or Uruguay teams on their performance in the tournament? How many English players play in the top technical club leagues — i.e. Spain, Italy and Germany? Answer: none. The only British player playing at top Continental level is Gareth Bale. Our players simply do not have the technical ability. In fact we don't even play football in this country — not the sport that other countries excel at. It looks the same, sounds the same, feels the same, smells the same. But it isn't the same. Until we start playing that game, Chris Waddle will continue with his quadrennial radio rant.

And finally, a tactical point. People talk about systems. Terry Venables said it's never about the system, it's about the players, which is probably true. But here's a thing... in the only two tournaments in the last quarter century in which England gave a decent account of themselves — 1990 and 1996 — the team played with three centre backs and two wing backs, the 5-3-2 or 3-5-2 system, depending on which way you look at it.

Before we get too misty-eyed over 1990, it should be reminded that England stunk that tournament out, too, until a player revolt forced dear old Bobby Robson to switch to 5-3-2. But suddenly, with a solid defensive line and the creative players free to roam, defensive responsibilities devolved, England looked unbeatable (Robson, bless him, still reverted to 4-4-2 in the last part of a game, just to show who was boss). Even Graham Taylor in his first few games, when he persisted with this system, looked, fleetingly, like he had a world class team. The same applied after early lukewarmness in Euro '96 when Venables adapted his "Christmas tree". And then came Glenn Hoddle. England didn't go far in 1998, but luck played a part in that. When Hoddle used wing backs, England looked impressive, too.

Football's moved on, you say. Stop harking back. I only mention it because the Dutch are currently employing this method.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Brazil Win World Cup: Official

So there we go, one game into the tournament and it's all over. The World Cup is finished. Feel absolutely sickened but not in the slightest bit surprised. Did anyone honestly expect FIFA not to instruct referees to ensure matches yield the "correct" result. Brazil 3 Croatia 1 was a travesty, but then no one — not the Brazilian Govt., not FIFA (nor one, would add, the CIA), can afford anything other than a Brazilian victory. Not with the stability of a continent at stake.

Though, jokingly, ITV's pundits warrant shooting on a regular basis, the sight of those bullet holes in the studio glass was chilling. I wrote about the entanglement of Latin American politics and football in my book Back Home (plundered, uncredited, by The Guardian in a piece about Mexico '70 on Monday). Nada ha cambiado.

And watch out for Saturday night and the referee's embodiment of FIFA's animus towards the English FA.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Rik Mayall

Sad to hear about Rik Mayall. For a student in the early '80s — living in a rancid flat and with a lifestyle and flatmates not dissimilar in aspect to those portrayed in The Young Ones — he was a comic god. Indeed, when The Young Ones went on tour and played my university at the height of their fame in, I think, 1983, it provoked a Beatlemania-esque frenzy.

I remember Ade Edmondson kicking off the show with Adrian Bastard and his Talking Penis (yep, he whipped the old fella out) and Neil (Nigel Planer) emerging from a wardrobe at the back of the stage after about half an hour, which he'd clearly been sitting in the whole time. Though it was Mayall who was the undoubted star.

Much has been written about The Young Ones and Blackadder, with very good reason. Kevin Turvey, too. But in between those, Bottom and Alan B'Stard, one show has been overlooked, Filthy, Rich & Catflap. It was sorely underrated. I kid you not, I hear the odd Mayall line in my head from that on a near daily basis. Comedy gold.

Wind back earlier and here's a clip of the first time I ever saw Mayall on telly, an early incarnation of the angry people's poet reading his composition "Theatre". Just brilliant...

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

FIFA Corruption "Shock"!

My goodness... so a multi-billion dollar corporation run by a cabal of elderly men whose votes can bestow ridiculous fortune upon applicants is susceptible to some "inducement" here and there. Who'd have thunk it? Like its ugly sister, the IOC — another body that regards itself as untouchably supranational — FIFA is as bent as bent can be and has been so for decades.

With no disrespect intended to the Brazilian hosts of the impending jamboree, the time to register a protest is NOW, refusing to allow one's national team to participate. But that's never going to happen, is it? And for the all the high-mindedness about investigation and reform, we all know that the inevitable whitewash of FIFA will result in any punitive action being token.

A boycott of Qatar 2022 (which won't happen either) could, potentially, yield a rather tasty prospect — a rogue, breakaway summer tournament, perhaps a more compact competition of 16 teams. But... nope... so petrified are the member associations of being blackballed by Blatter Inc. — even still —that they'll all kowtow eventually.

The biggest losers here will be England. With FIFA unable to disassociate a free press from the will of a government, and, by extension, its FA, the recent Sunday Times uncoverings will be seen merely as a case of sour grapes for failing to win the 2018 bid. In my mind there is no coincidence between the British press' last anti-FIFA rumblings and the denial of Frank Lampard's goal against Germany in South Africa (at a crucial point in the game, remember, when England were on the up). So brace yourself for that dodgy Suarez dive/handball and penalty to Uruguay.

You think FIFA can't determine what goes on on the pitch? 1978: Argentina 6 Peru 0, anyone? (One from any number of historic "arrangements".) As Gabriele Marcotti put it four years ago with regard to England: "And you wonder why results go against you?"